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'We're up 2-0 and next thing, Ronaldo's shirt is in the air!' - Jenas on Man Utd, Modric and life lessons from Gary Speed

6:47 PM MYT 12/04/2022
Ronaldo Tottenham 2009 Manchester United
The ex-Spurs midfielder reflected on his toughest opponents and some of the biggest lessons he learned from superstar team-mates

Former Newcastle and Tottenham midfielder Jermaine Jenas has explained how Wayne Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo made Manchester United the toughest team he ever played against while also reflecting on what should have been some life-changing advice from the late Gary Speed.

Jenas earned 21 caps for England throughout his career, which saw him spend eight seasons at Tottenham after five campaigns for Newcastle.

During that time, Jenas faced off against several iconic Premier League clubs while crossing paths with legends that he said changed the way he viewed both the game and life.

The best team Jenas ever faced

During Jenas' career, several top clubs were at the peak of their powers, with the Jose Mourinho-led Chelsea among them with the midfield trio of Claude Makelele, Michael Essien and Frank Lampard playing alongside John Terry and Didier Drogba.

There were also several great Arsenal teams during his career, including the Invincibles as the league featured several iconic teams throughout the early to mid 2000s.

Yet none compared to Sir Alex Ferguson's Manchester United, Jenas says, thanks to their attacking duo of Wayne Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo.

Jenas reflected on a match between Tottenham and Man Utd in 2009 which saw the Red Devils overcome a 2-0 deficit in what felt like an avalanche of unstoppable goals.

"That whole era of Premier League football was scary," Jenas said. "The Chelsea side, being a midfielder that played a system that was very much 4-4-2 at times, when you're going up against Makelele, Essien and Lampard, it just didn't get any tougher than that. It was so hard to play in those games. You have to just dig so much deeper just to get a result out of those games.

"I probably would just say that Man Utd team just edged it for me just because that attack that they had was just ruthless. It really was.

"Mourinho's teams were a new age of Premier League team, don't get me wrong, but when Rooney and Ronaldo got going, it was amazing to see and horrible to be stung by.

"We had one game at Old Trafford and we were up 2-0, playing really well, cruising, and Howard Webb gives away this horrible penalty. I think he admitted it in his book afterwards that it was a big mistake. Ronaldo scored and I'll never forget how it was goals going like bang, bang, goal, goal.

"Next thing I know Ronaldo's got his shirt flying in the air and I'm just like, 'This sums this team up, they never give in'. Unbelievable."

'We weren't taught to play like Modric'

During his time at Spurs, Jenas crossed paths with a young Luka Modric, a player that would go on to eventually break Ronaldo and Lionel Messi's duopoly at the very top by winning the 2018 Ballon d'Or.

Modric joined Spurs from Dynamo Zagreb in 2008 and, from the moment he stepped foot on the pitch, Jenas says the Croatian played the game differently than any player he'd ever seen.

"When he arrived, we wanted to play him like in a 10 position, and he just was not that," he said. "He was always wanting to dictate and drop deeper.

"He was the first person that I kind of saw going into areas of midfield that, as English midfielders, we weren't taught to go there. It's weird how different players in different parts of the world are just taught to play the role differently. I actually learned a lot from Luka. Watching him day in and day out, it was incredible."

Life lessons from Speed and Davids

Jenas, who played 436 matches throughout his career, also reflected on some of those that took him under their wing during his early years.

The former midfielder made his professional debut at age 17 for his boyhood club Nottingham Forest before earning a move to Newcastle and earning his first England cap at the age of 19.

Jenas was also named PFA Young Player of the Year for the 2002–03 season and made England's squad for the 2006 World Cup.

During his early days at Newcastle, Jenas was a team-mate of the late Speed, the legendary Wales star who once held the record for the most appearances in the Premier League's history.

Speed took his own life in 2011, shocking the football world.

Jenas thinks back to several conversations with Speed about how fickle life could be when playing football at a top level, and the former midfelder says he wishes he listened more to his famous team-mate during his younger years.

"I used to sit next to him when I was in the dressing room at Newcastle," Jenas said. "When you're young, as a lot of young players see now, you hit that point where you're just you just feel unstoppable and you're flying. It's like, 'I'm playing on a Saturday I'm going out, I'm earning all this money and things are great'.

"He used to sit me down every now and again and just go 'Listen, take it in, it goes fast. It goes quick, you blink and it's done'.

"I sit here now and I can openly say that I probably took in like 50 percent of the statement. Now being retired, it's the one thing that I keep replaying in my mind over and over again, just how true it is and how much I'd love to be able to, and sometimes do, communicate with younger players and get them to take in every moment and consider the every decision that they make.

"It is the one thing when I think about my career in terms of advice and words of wisdom or whatever you want to call it, it's just that moment with Speed. It always sticks out in my mind for some reason."

Speed isn't the only star Jenas wishes he appreciated more during his career, as he also reflected on a moment involving legendary Dutch star Edgar Davids.

Davids was at Spurs from 2005-07 and, despite not being at the peak of his powers, the former AC Milan star worked hard to change the culture at Spurs.

According to Jenas, he wasn't always taken seriously by some of the club's young players, who did not yet appreciate what it took to play the game at Davids' level.

"My first season at Tottenham, we had a really good team. It was me, Michael Carrick and Edgar Davids in midfield, and Davids decided to call a meeting and it was quite probably the first time I'd seen a player call a meeting among other players with no staff involved.

"He just stood there at the head of the table in the training ground dressing room and he was just like, 'What do you want? Without talking out of turn, I've won everything, I've done everything, and I'm looking around here and I'm not sure you lot are focused to go and get this top four spot and to go and achieve more'.

"It was a real honest moment because we were doing well, but in his eyes, he was like 'I've seen more and I'm going to tell you and you want to listen or you don't'.

"The one thing that stood out for me at the time is that people took the p*ss out of him. People took the mick. They were just like 'Oh, Edgar's being busy, leave it out, let's get on with training'.

"A lot of players might say it now but when you look back on your career, you look at people like Edgar and you go, 'That's why you've won what you and that's why you were what you were as a player'.

"Every dressing room needs a person that is not that bothered about getting on with people. He wasn't at the peak of his powers from a player perspective, but the mentality of him was scary, it really was

"He was underappreciated, I think, by a group of players, including myself, at the time."

Percival have launched a new football-inspired SS22 collection featuring Jermaine Jenas. You can shop the entire collection from Percival here: SS22 The Away Lounge

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